Performing Terrorism
  • Leith Passmore


“Matter of a corpse, Urgent!” In the early morning of May 9, 1976, prison guards found Ulrike Meinhof dead and hanging from her cell window. The police report notes the position of the body and the untidy desk on which “no clues, leads, or notes relevant to the case” could be found, before remarking that “the sole thing on the desk to stand out was that, amongst other things, the book by Ludwig Wittgenstein with the title ‘Philosophical Grammar’ lay there. The book lay open at the pages 84/85.”2 It seems a curious detail to highlight, but just as Lessing’s bourgeois tragedy open on Werther’s desk was a clue to his frustrations, perhaps Wittgenstein is representative of Meinhof’s sufferings: were the limits of her language indeed the limits of her world?3 Questions may always remain about the circumstances of Meinhof’s death, but what is clear is that she struggled with what she saw as the boundaries of communication as a writer, a fugitive, and a prisoner. This book examines her journalism and her terrorism in light of this struggle. It applies to her twin careers a communicative methodology that understands terrorism as a discursive construction: at once the result of, and itself a series of, performative acts of text, imagery, and Physical violence.


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    Wittgenstein’s assertion that “Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt” appeared not in Philospische Grammatik but in his Tractatus, which also appears on RAF reading lists. Sarah Colvin uses the presence of Wittgenstein’s work on Meinhof’s desk and in the RAF reading lists to underline the centrality of language to the understanding of Meinhof; see Sarah Colvin, Ulrike Meinhof and West German Terrorism: Language, Violence, and Identity (New York: Camden House, 2009), 2–4.Google Scholar
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